Is War Unavoidable and Whose War Is It Anyway?

As the atrocities mount, each one exceedingly more brutal than the last, ISIS continues to capture attention and ignite passions across the globe that ultimately could lead nations to counter inhumanity with brute force. This could very well have the exact opposite impact desired. It has been said that all war is a failure of diplomacy. I believe there are cases where it is unavoidable, but often it seems to be considered as a first response instead of a last resort.

It is certainly understandable from a humanistic perspective that reactions to the psychopathic behavior we are currently witnessing range from extermination to killing with extreme prejudice. However putting aside debate over our complicity in creating the instability in that region of the world, intended or not, the preeminent question that must be addressed before deciding upon a course of action has to be whether it will lessen or worsen the problem. Hopefully this is the debate that must and will ensue between Congress and the Executive branches but recent history casts a dubious light on a thorough consideration of such weighty matters.

As is usually the case, we have traversed this policy minefield before, and it was not that long ago. In the mid-1960s, President Lyndon Baines Johnson effectively boxed himself into a losing strategy in Vietnam by escalating our involvement and by refusing to admit that we were reinforcing the resolve of the enemy by doing so. The end result was the loss of over 58,000 American lives, untold destruction and death throughout Vietnam, loss of prestige and honor in the international arena, and tremendous social strife at home.

The costs of war are staggering and range from those measured in dollars and cents to the incalculable impact upon those affected on both sides and caught in the middle. In Vietnam we spent roughly $140,000 per enemy killed, over 153,000 American personnel were wounded, between 70,000-300,000 committed suicide as a result of their wartime experiences, and over 700,000 suffered psychological trauma.

In Iraq it is projected that direct military costs when compounded with interest over the next four decades will cost in excess of $6 trillion, nearly 5,000 U.S. personnel were killed, over 32,000 were wounded, and conservatively 134,000 Iraqi civilians were killed -- but that number may be off by as much as a factor of four. It is also estimated that approximately 2.8 million persons were either internally displaced or fled the country.

These clinical numbers of course mask the degree to which the current upheaval is directly correlated to our involvement in that part of the world. The numbers themselves are sobering and if anything should help bring into sharper focus future courses of action, including the possibility of further intervention. But the ultimate costs of these misadventures are quite possibly incalculable.

The shock and awe exhibited by ISIS undoubtedly stirs war fever even in a war-weary nation. But if further involvement by the U.S. serves to reinforce enemy recruitment we must resist the temptation to once again impose ourselves into a conflict that will pit twenty-first century killing technology against an eighth-century ideology. Islam is not the enemy, but an interpretation of Islamic dogma that predates the Dark Ages is a direct contradiction and affront to evolved and evolving Islamist beliefs, just as the Crusades and Inquisition is a direct affront to modern-day Christian beliefs. To hide behind religion as a defense of inhumanity is quite simply inhuman.

It is crucial and critically important that the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide condemn that which is being perpetrated in their name. As repugnant and repulsive as these acts of barbarism are any attempts by the U.S. to interject itself into a religious conflagration that is totally foreign and grossly not understood or misunderstood by either the populace at large or even foreign policy experts places us at risk of creating enemies in places where today we have allies.

In Vietnam many of us argued that our understanding of the culture, society, and history of the region was negligible. In Iraq the same applied and we have paid dearly for our ignorance. The fact that vaguely indistinguishable and seemingly incomprehensible historical rifts within Islam are at the root of the current conflict render our involvement perilous at best. But given what we do know or are at least willing to attempt to comprehend further involvement in what amounts to a religious civil war defies common sense. And if past experiences like Iraq and Vietnam are reflective of what we should not do, if they serve in a sense as a reverse barometer, then we should certainly heed the call to resist being dragged into a quagmire that will once again leave us bankrupt in ways both financial and psychic.

Of course the larger and more enduring philosophical issues over the meaning and relevance of religious dogma captured in writings that reach back hundreds and even thousands of years must be seriously debated among societies across the spectrum of humanity if there is to be any chance at all of peaceful coexistence.

Religion may have a useful place in human society, but if it can be used to incite and foment death, destruction, misery, pain, and disharmony then it should be treated as a scourge upon civilization. If religion cannot contribute to harmonization among mankind then we must, as a matter of course, seriously question its purpose and function. If religion can be used as a crutch to support a withering and decrepit rationale for violence then it should be viewed as dangerous.

This is meant to apply to all matters of faith that require and encourage a commitment to servitude, torture, and in general depravation of individual beliefs and freedom. And whether that stems from religion or nationalism it cannot be tolerated. So this is a call to religious leaders across the world to rise to the occasion and to preach peace as a governing principle and reject fanatical fundamentalism where beheadings and crucifixion are acceptable forms of expression.

History has taught us many things and recent history holds special lessons from which we can learn if only it is what not to do.